We’ve dodged the bullet, avoided the Mayan apocalypse and arrived safely in 2013. Been to see a film yet? Maybe you’ve already scanned through the listings to see what’s coming up, in the hope of finding the first gem of the year, or at least the first mindless blockbuster which which to kill off a few more brain cells. But whatever your choice is, one thing’s almost certain: whichever film you choose to watch, you almost certainly won’t know what time it starts.
If you’re a normal person (i.e. not me), then I’d imagine that you look at the cinema listings, see what time the film starts, and then aim to arrive at the cinema around about that time. There’s a number of variables that you’re taking into account consciously or subconsciously, depending on your level of desperation to see the film in question, how often you have to suffer the ignominy of the lower end multiplex experience – parking, queuing for tickets, queuing for overpriced nachos and drinks – but based on my own observations of cinema audiences, the majority of people have managed to navigate all of the cumbersome obstacles placed in front of them by life and the cinema and have taken their seat for the advertised start time.
If you’re one of those well-organised people, what stands between you and the start of your chosen film hasn’t changed radically in terms of form or content for quite some years, but has grown ever longer and more twisted, like the fingernails of a desperate Guiness World record holder. If you’re visiting a cinema in the UK for a standard film, then what follows typically falls into around three broad sections. As you will typically have no idea how long these sections will last, either individually or in total, I’m going to call this time The Corridor Of Uncertainty (a term which I have in no way, shape or form stolen off of cricket AT ALL).
The first of these is the advertising. At Cineworld, Vue, Odeon and Picturehouse cinemas, you’ll know you’re off and running thanks to an introduction from the people who compile their adverts, Digital Cinema Media.
This will normally be a good indication as to whether the projector’s been pointed at the screen properly and quite how ear-splittingly loud the sound’s been turned up. If everything now appears to have turned into a colourful silent film, it’s probably been turned up to 11 and you should leave immediately and seek medical advice.
Let’s be completely honest about this, though: it’s no Asteroid, is it?
If you’re lucky enough to live near a cinema not in one of the four chains mentioned earlier (so Showcase, Apollo, Empire, Curzon, Everyman or most independents), you’re still privileged enough to get a burst of Asteroid to start your cinema experience, although in a slightly shortened form. If you’re going to be in for the long haul before your film starts, at least this will get you in a vaguely cheerful mood.
There then follows anything between five and ten minutes of actual adverts. These days the advent of advertising on everything from your phone to the wall of the toilets has lessened the need for local advertising; when I was a lad, the cinema adverts were packed full of details about local amenities, all conveniently located within a small number of yards of this cinema. (On one fateful occasion, this drew my family and I to try a new vegetarian restaurant in town; the poorly cooked lentil burgers were left half eaten on the table.) It’s also down to the changing requirements of cinema since it started: when films were first shown, each time a reel needed to be changed it resulted in an intermission, but as technology improved that became less of a concern. It was then the length of films that necessitated a break, often to avoid a DVT setting in among the majority of patrons, and this was an ideal opportunity to get in the adverts, as well as the chance to purchase your refreshments from the usherette or the foyer:
Sadly, the days of the multiplex and the need to fit in as many screenings as possible have seen the disappearance from most cinemas of many of these old traditions, and the usherette and the intermission have gone the same way as the balcony and the short film. Consequently the only opportunity to hit you with a barrage of adverts is when you first take your seat. After about ten minutes of constant adverts, most rational people will be ready to chew off their armrests with boredom.
Then the bit which gets really exciting. (Exciting being a relative term, of course.) Any self respecting cinema will want to get you back for another visit, so what follows are three or four – or sometimes five; actually, I can recall getting as many as six on a couple of occasions – promos edited to within an inch of their life to plug upcoming product.
Again, the way in which we consume these mini movies has changed radically over the years, thanks largely to our old friend The Internet. It would be somewhat hypocritical of me to slag off the internet, given that you wouldn’t be reading this without it, but the internet has largely taken the magic out of watching trailers in the cinema. I still remember the days before this happened, when the only opportunity to see trailers was actually in the cinema, as all you tended to get on TV was a cut-down, thirty second version. I can remember it as recently as 1996, when I was at university and the internet was still that thing they had just at university, or if you were really lucky someone you knew had the internet at home on a connection quick enough to watch trailers streaming at the size of a postage stamp. Trailers like this one and their impossible closing shots were enough to make sure I was always sat down before the adverts finished.
Now, for anyone who’s a serious film lover, you can consume your trailers at home in HD quality before setting foot in a cinema. As there’s no film to otherwise draw in your attention, film studios have come up with increasingly desperate ways to wave their virtual arms in the air to get your attention, and teaser trailers, teaser trailers for the teaser trailers and grandly named innovations like announcement trailers attempt to show you all of their trailery goodness before you ever set foot in a cinema. (And quite often, the sheer barrage of promotional material means that you’ve seen pretty much every frame of the first two acts before you even arrive in the car park.) When the director of a movie goes on a chat show to spoof this phenomenon and it still doesn’t stop the promotional wheels from turning very tiny announcement-based cogs, there’s probably no hope for any of us.
Public Service Announcements
Think you’re going to get the film now? Think again. Now the cinema has to stop one step short of pinning your eyes open, Clockwork-Orange style, and forcing you to pay attention until the film starts. There will still be a whole range of possible further messages that the cinema needs to tell you before you get to watch what you paid for. Again, this phenomenon is nothing new, it’s just suffering from what’s known in the world of Management Bollocks™ as “scope creep”.
Evidence that this is nothing new, and a particular reminder that once upon a time, cinemas were a very different, and quite unhealthy, pastime:
Now, what you’re likely to be served up includes a reminder of which cinema you’re sitting in, just in case you’ve been sat there so long you’d forgotten:
Other cinema chains are available. Most of them are trying to convince you that their viewing experience is more whizzy than the others. You’ll also likely be reminded that sitting in the cinema being surrounded by children throwing popcorn and bored adults talking is a privilege that should in no way be abused by recording the film on your iPhone and showing it to your mates later:
There’s then also an opportunity to point out any special facilities that the cinema might offer, such as audio description or subtitles. You might then be really lucky and get something that’s a remix of almost everything you’ve had so far, cutting clips from a couple of dozen trailers into a sort of super-trailer to remind you to go to that place where you are right now, steadily losing the will to live:
What I’m sure you’re in the mood for now is one more advert, right? What normally occurs before you get to the film is a final advert, known in advertising parlance as the gold spot. The assumption is that by now, even the latest of stragglers and latecomers are in their seat, and in the UK that represents around 175 million opportunities for a person to see the gold spot advert. This might be used to remind you of the virtues of smaller cinema, such as the See Film Differently campaign:
Or to remind you to turn off your phone, often with yet another opportunity to plug some film product:
And after all that, hopefully you’ll get to see a message from FACT, reminding you that piracy is a crime, and then whatever automated system that’s replaced the projectionist will use this as an opportunity to widen the curtains and to start projecting the film in entirely the wrong aspect ratio, causing you to wonder why you even bothered.
But before I get too cynical – after all, my love for the cinema experience is why I write this blog – so I am trying to convince you to stick with it. If you’re going to a Saturday night screening, or the opening night on a random weeknight of the latest blockbuster, then if you want any hope of a decent seat you’re going to have to suck it up and sit through the Corridor Of Uncertainty. Just remember to stop chatting to your neighbour when everyone around you starts going “SSSSSSSHHHH!!!”, it’s your clue that the film’s finally started.
Beating the system
Or am I? Do you really have to sit through this? Most cinemas seem fairly reluctant to even tell you how long this is, so attempting to arrive in your seat just in time for the film itself would seem to be more luck than judgement. There are a few exceptions which will help the frustrated cineaste in such situations. ODEON cinemas have a small comment tucked away in their FAQ section on their website:
This at least gives you a guide as to what they’re aiming for, even if personal experience tells me those figures are a minimum, rather than an average. Vue go one better on their website:
Knowing the end time of the film means some simple mathematics will allow you to work back to when the actual film starts, thus allowing you to sneak in stealthily and in the nick of time. For the other chains, it requires a little more work to deduce this, but there’s still ways of working out when you should aim to arrive in your seat. Take the Cineworld chain, for example:
These are timings for the showings this week of Jack Reacher at one of my locals. Jack Reacher’s running time clocks in at two hours and ten minutes, and the screenings have around three hours between start times. What I do know, from regular attendance and observation, is that my Cineworld almost invariably leave fifteen minutes between screenings, so for the 21:00 screening I can work back to assume that chucking out time for the earlier showing will be around 20:45, so the running time of the film suggests a start time of around 20:35. This should give anyone attending a guide that around thirty minutes of their life will be lost to adverts, trailers, PDAs and other associated guff if they arrive for the scheduled start time.
There are other ways of approaching this, as the approach of the BFI IMAX in London typifies. The screenshot above from Odeon’s FAQ indicates only five minutes of promotional nonsense, but what you do get is adverts, shown while people are filing in, and the start time indicates the start of the trailers. As these are being shown on the UK’s largest screen, even the most technically minded and largely-walleted of people won’t have seen them on a screen this big. Other chains, such as the Picturehouses, typically keep most of their pre-screening preamble down to fifteen to twenty minutes, making it just that little bit more bearable.
It might not be much of an issue for you if your trips to the cinema number in single figures for the year, although if one of those was the screening of Paranormal Activity 4 I saw last year, the 38 minutes of a combination of the above will have tested even the strongest of wills (and then the film itself will have pushed those wills to breaking point). It does become an issue for the likes of me, where I tend to to double or treble bills (or sometimes more), when sitting through the adverts, trailers and twaddle each time three or more times in a day will start to cause my brain to dribble out of my ears in sheer frustration. It’s also unnecessary time sat in a cinema seat which can be spent more effectively getting to the next film.
So if I’m off to the cinema with Mrs Evangelist, I’ll try to arrive when the adverts are on, as our trailer dissections in the car on the way home often take up longer than the discussion on the film itself. If I’m going alone, then I’m aiming to arrive as close to the end of the Corridor as possible. But one thing’s certain: no matter how many films I see this year, whether it be 20 or 200, I’ll have to put up with the Gold Spot in every single one. Sad to say, I’ve spent more time in the company of men like this than some members of my own family. I miss these guys.